Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
By Mike Creasy
We’ve all heard or used the expression. Ever wondered where it came from?
A post on a very useful website for ship modellers (http://home.att.net/~shipmodelfaq/) tried to answer the question, without much success.
A number of old quotations favour the idea that the devil is actually a seam on the ship that is particularly difficult to caulk – such as the junction between the sheer strake and the deck, or the last plank before the keel (otherwise known as the garboard strake).
Another possible explanation is that devils are a thread woven into the King’s cordage and canvas, to identify it and reduce theft.
Personally, I like the explanation given in 1873 by Samuel Plimsoll: “Oh devils are sham bolts. When they ought to be copper, the head and about an inch of shaft is copper, the rest is iron. Seventy three devils were found in one ship by the surveyors of Lloyds.” …the inference being that only some rusty iron bolts stand between you and a watery grave.
I think I bought that scow.